Mexico is not getting the best press right now. We all know this. As a result, fewer of us Americans are going there, outside of the college kids and honeymooners heading straight for the American colony of Cancun. But the truth is that the bad news out of Mexico is close to the border and in isolated cities. That’s why I headed to Mexico, one, because there is a whole other Mexico that is beautiful and safe and a great setting for adventure, and two, because Mexico tourist bureaus are willing to send “journalists” like me on trips to prove it.
I arrived in Veracruz, Mexico, after a short connection in Dallas where I tried airport Texas barbecue, which turns out, is not the best place to have Texas BBQ.
Mexican customs was easy enough, and after I passed through the magical sliding doors I was greeted by an ATMEX crew, a member of which was holding a printed sign for the event.
This really disappointed me because I was hoping that I would be considered important enough to have a man holding a sign with just my name on it. I always wanted somebody like that meeting me after I got off a plane, ever since I saw “House Guest.” They escorted me to a suped up ATMEX branded SUV. ATMEX is the first annual adventure travel conference in Mexico that highlights Veracruz’s less known adventure travel tourist destinations. (There are a lot of very dedicated people working in Mexican tourism to fight unfair perceptions of their country. ATMEX is the result of the work of many of these people promoting.) Veracruz has many of those destinations, many of which are eco-tourism sites where getting annihilated with tequila is actually not part of the allure. The ATMEX people are not messing around with their efforts to make a great first impression. They brought me to the Galeria Hotel where I checked into my own suite with those super comfy hotel beds, an in-suite Jacuzzi, and even an aquarium that looked as if it had submerged the elevator.
The next day I rode a luxury coach bus to Chichicaxtle with an escort of two federal police. Veracruz the city is rather bland, but it’s a great staging point for white water rafting, bird watching, mountain biking, paintball, and more. The city of Chichicaxtle is home to the Pronatura bird observatory planted in the middle of the of the world’s largest bird-of-prey migration, with of up to six million individual birds and thirty different species.
October is the migratory high season, where one can see Broad-winged Hawks making their cross continental journey. Bird-watching is not exactly the most exciting thing, in the world, but that’s because it usually involves a whole lot of looking for birds, and not enough watching. But in the fall here there is a river of raptors flying overhead, many of which spiral upwards into the sky as they gather numbers. The locals have a custom where they recreate this communal gravitational defiance. It involved bungee jumping in groups of four down a long pole. Bad-ass.
In the background of this bird observatory was a soccer match with mean drinking beer and vendors selling beer (and plantains too).
I’m not against camping, but I won’t pretend I like sitting around the temperate forests of my native Pennsylvania sipping on warm beer while somebody with a guitar tries to remember the chords for “free-falling.” My camping experience with Mexico Verde in the Jalcomulco jungle near Veracruz was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. This was what they call “luxury camping.”
At Mexico Verde I was greeted with Jamaica juice (Mexico is famous for its fresh juices) while my bags were taken by the friendly staff to my luxury tent. I tried to take my bags myself. But they insisted. And I didn’t really fight them that hard on it. The downtime at Mexico Verde was nothing to complain about either.
Dinner was a unique Mexican carnival experience where I played Mexican bingo, rode a mechanical bull, threw darts at balloons, ate cotton candy (probably not so Mexican), and fished for empty beer bottles.
The food was fried empanadas, unsweetened corn on the cob rubbed in butter, chili powder, and other fast food treats.
This went along all wile listening to a talented marimba band play Mexican hits.
The dinner the following night was more formal with a marimba band and barbecued meat.
In the afternoon we fastened our harnesses in a series of ziplines from platform to platform directly over a jungle full of mango trees, of which Jalcomulco is a famous producer.
I somehow got roped into becoming the professional photographer for a corporate executive which is why I have all of these action shots (as well as stock tips.)
We rode from the ziplining course through the town’s rural roads which were lined with small huts and barbwire fences penning in chickens running amok.
In the afternoon farmers came walking down the mountain after a day of work.
The roads were rough but perfect for fast biking; we tore down the curvy and hilly roads. Along the way I tasted raw coffee beans (there’s a reason we don’t eat those) and standing chilis which were, well, hot.
Despite our collective inexperience, only one person fell off their bike, and I managed to avoid any major catastrophes, except getting stuck halfway through a stream and soaking my ziglite shoes.
This the result of the single bike crash.
The views were also…well see for yourself.
Mexico Verde set up a “team building” obstacle course for the likes of visiting Starbucks managers. I tried my hand at a few of the easier obstacles.
White Water Rafting
Around Jalcomulco are class three, four, and five rapids, the most intense of which are on the Pescado River. I took to the front of the boat acting as a translator for my crew of three rowers. It’s hard to translate with a mouth full of water.
Back at Mexico Verde basecamp we entered a pre-Columbian steam bath ritual. We entered a clay hut and the shaman filled the pit with molten rocks creating steam using local herbs. Apparently they ran out of peyote after the last group. (Why do I feel like they say that to everybody? And who was in the last group that ate the whole supply? Gary Busey?) But we did do silly things like screaming out our anger. Which, I admit, did make me feel pretty damn mellow.
So, things I’ve learned so far in Mexico: Mexicans are great hosts, there are endless outdoor activities and adventures, and camping is way more fun with a mechanical bull. The Mexican state of Veracruz really is a fantastic area littered with adventure activities and nature untouched by international tourists. Oh, and don’t leave Gary Busey alone with the peyote.
Are you not done reading about weird stuff in Mexico?
Try Shamans, Spas, and Mel Gibson: Spiritual Tourism in Mexico, Mexico, Beyond the Border and the Hype: Adventure Travel in Veracruz, Cenotes – Underground Sinkhole Exploration for Dummies, or Pre-Urban Exploration Mexico: Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort